Bonjour! The Vuelta crosses into France for a finish in Peyragudes. But it’s not all so French as the last winner here was Alejandro Valverde when he took his stage win in the 2012 Tour de France.
This is a vital stage of the Vuelta, 225km across the Pyrenees and with a tricky summit finish which might not be difficult by itself but after such a long distance in grim weather means the time losses can be huge.
Stage 14 Review
It was one of those days when you’re glad not to be a pro cyclist. Wind and rain came with falling temperatures and long descents. The bad weather came as an extra shock after two weeks of fine weather and 14 riders abandoned. It was so wet riders were going uphill with rain jackets on when normally tackling a mountain pass generates too much heat even on a cold day. Luis Leon Sanchez and Ivan Basso both left the race after crashes and even hypothermia for the Spaniard after burning up energy in the day’s break. A stage win for Daniele Ratto offered some comfort for Cannondale, Ratto descended like a moto rider with one foot on the ground when cornering and crossed the line with his lime green jersey soaked dark with water but his joy was heartwarming, presumably he was delighted with the win rather than just celebrating the first to get a shower on the team bus. Meanwhile Vincenzo Nibali’s looking solid for the red jersey but there’s still over a week to go.
The Route: two hundred and twenty five kilometres. I wrote it out to make it sound longer and if it’s not the longest day of the year it’s plenty two weeks into a stage race when it’s a mountain stage. And it’s raining. The merciful part is that the climbs are spaced apart so they become set-piece efforts to be tackled individually and with time to recover in between and the GC guys can have team mates on hand to supply dry clothes and warm drinks. At least until the end when the Port de Balès appears with its 10% slopes and a descent that ends only to start climbing the Peyresourde immediately meaning riders have to turn the legs on the way down to stay warm for the climb.
The Finish: the image above is stolen from the 2012 Tour de France but the roads are the same as Stage 17 when Alejandro Valverde won the day whilst behind Chris Froome briefly rode away from Bradley Wiggins. The Col de Peyresourde is a steady climb in the Pyrenees where the 8% gradient bites. The final section to Peyragudes is easier on paper but comes after a long ride.
Peyragudes is a small cluster of buildings near the top of the Col de Peyresourde. A ski resort is too generous, think ski installation. Note the final kilometre is flat. This is a very long stage so picking someone with a fast sprint – for example Valverde – is fine but any speed can be blunted by the distance and speed.
The Scenario: Having said the time gaps could be big there’s a good chance the bunch huddles for as long as it can. But remember many riders are without a contract. On a normal day the prize of a grand tour stage win is big enough but looming unemployment means someone’s bound to ride off from the start and force the race to react. This could in turn see a large move go clear that forces the big teams like Astana to chase.
The default pick has to be Vincenzo Nibali. He leads the race and as we saw in the Giro even a foul day on the bike won’t make him race conservatively and the Vuelta’s bad conditions are hard but not as glacial as the Giro.
Is it time for Thibaut Pinot to avenge the Battle of Roncevaux and strike for France on home soil? Or will he soil his shorts on a wet descent? Perhaps he can just beat his own demons but taking a win won’t be easy given the competition and he’s slowly rising up the overall classification.
Meanwhile those who had a bad day yesterday can make amends, some will bounce back because of the law of averages but others will find today’s steady grinds suit them more than yesterday’s jagged uphill finish.
Weather: if yesterday was bad, today could be as grim with frequent rain and cool temperatures.
TV: worth watching so long as the TV cameras aren’t stopped by the clouds. The finish is for 5.45pm but tune in early to catch the action and note the forecast finish time could be out given the distance and conditions today.
- Andorra has a prosperous economy. Not only because of the tourism (the country of the Pyrenees has plenty of ski stations and trekking routes), but also due to its status as a tax haven. Many Spanish and French tourists don’t leave the country without the maximum amount of cigarettes and alcohol, much cheaper here than in their own countries.
- Sort (“luck” in Catalan) is the name of a town the peloton will reach in km 50,9 of today’s stage. With such an attractive name, lots of lottery tickets are sold here, specially for the Sorteo Extraordinario de Navidad, held every Christmas, considered the biggest lottery worldwide.
- Shortly after the feeding zone, the race will arrive to Vielha, the most important town of the Val d’Aran (Aran Valley). This Catalan comarca is the only one to be north of the Pyrenees, and so its rivers flow into the Atlantic Ocean. Aranese is the local language, different from Spanish, French and Catalan.
- The French/Spanish border along the Pyrenees has been a place where battles have been fought over the centuries ever since 778 AD, when the Basques destroyed one of Charlemagne’s armies. More recently, in the 1990s, French farmers used to stop Spanish lorries to destroy agricultural products, because they were much more economic than those produced in France.
- However, this border has also a positive side. Spanish liberty fighters always found refuge in France whenever 19th century kings or 20th century dictators chased them. French tourists benefit from lower taxes when they have to fill their cars’ tanks before coming back to France.
A big “merci” to cycling podcaster and history teacher Manuel Pérez Díaz for the local information. You can follow him on Twitter as perezdiazmanuel